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House and President's Proposals for Higher Education Raise Concerns

Feb 16, 2011

By Vickie Choitz

House proposes devastating cuts for FY 2011

The U.S. House is proposing devastating cuts to programs that allow low-income students to access postsecondary education, including the largest cut to the Pell Grant program in its history.

On Feb. 11, the House Appropriations Committee introduced HR 1, a Continuing Resolution (CR) measure to fund the government for the remainder of fiscal year 2011. The bill would fund the Pell Grant program at the same level as FY 2010 ($4,705). But the proposal actually cuts $845 from the current maximum Pell Grant, which was increased to $5,550 by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  Experts estimate this cut would make 1.7 million students ineligible for Pell Grants.

The CR proposes to: cut $24.9 million from the TRIO program, which  provides critical support services for low-income students; eliminate the LEAP state student aid program; eliminate the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG) (which allows colleges to provide additional aid to undergraduates with exceptional financial need); and eliminate the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education. The programs all are important tools in helping this nation improve postsecondary access, completion and quality.

The House is expected to vote Feb. 16 on separate amendments to increase Pell Grant funding and to bar the U.S. Department of Education from using the appropriated funds to issue or enforce any rule or regulation related to gainful employment, including the reporting and disclosure requirements finalized in October that are scheduled to go into effect this July.  

The Senate has not yet released its budget proposal for FY 2011.

President's FY2012 proposal a mixed bag

In contrast to the policy direction embodied in the House CR, the President's 2012 Budget proposal would protect the current maximum Pell Grant of $5,550 and maintain current funding levels for  FSEOGs and Work Study programs. The budget includes two new college completion initiatives: First in the World and College Completion Incentive Grants.

We are encouraged by this focus on improving outcomes and look forward to working with the Administration to help ensure that these initiatives tap into the most effective strategies and state  reform efforts to improve postsecondary access and success for low-income students.

However, we were disappointed to see the Administration propose to eliminate a new Pell provision, called "year round Pell," which gives students access to aid for summer school. Congress intended for this change to allow low-income students - including adults juggling college with work and family responsibilities - to enroll continuously and thereby make more rapid  progress toward a credential or degree, and, ultimately, a better paying job and career. The Obama Administration has indicated that Pell grants for summer school resulted in higher than anticipated costs, and that the summer school aid might not have accelerated student completion. Since the provision has only been in effect a year and a half, it seems too early to have enough data to judge whether it should be eliminated. 

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